Design Philosophy - A Rambling Rant

I’ve hit about 36 hours of playtime since the game released last weekend, and have a sort of rambly general rant/criticism at how Darktide is structured in comparison to it’s predecessor.
And before you say it - yes, I know this is not Vermntide 2. It’s its own game trying to carve it’s own identity and take on the -tide formula. But I still feel that it is misguided.

tl:dr: game has a solid core but is flawed in multiple ways - which is frustrating seeing as how the team has been developing -tide games for about 7 years now

The Combat Feels Worse :crossed_swords:

The combat in Darktide - like many have expressed both here and on other platforms - feels worse than VT2. Or for those who don’t have a history with VT2, perhaps they just might find things generally clunky.

Because there’s a lot of speedbumps, delays, and tweaks made in the name of doggedly enforcing cooperative play regardless of your individual skill level. Meaning games are more influenced by party comp and builds (in other words - outside of your control unless you’re a 4-stack).

While skill is of course the biggest factor, the ability for one person to carry a run or clutch things back from the brink is drastically reduced compared to VT2. The power of the individual is made less significant.

  • Dodging stops stamina regeneration? Now your ability to kite a horde safely is noticably reduced. Better hope you or someone on your team is specialized in horde clear.
  • Elites and specials are extra bulky? Better hope you or someone else is geared for that otherwise they may just back you into a corner!
  • Important distant target who needs killing/suppressing immediately? Boy that delay on drawing your ranged weapon really sucks. I hope you had a Veteran or Psyker standing a few paces back and not contributing to horde clear so that they can quickly dispatch the target!
  • Toughness as a concept.
    In an older post I mentioned that VT2 had a “temp HP problem” to try and justify Toughness. But the more I think on it, the more I don’t think that was the case.
    Temporary HP was a good system which encouraged aggression in ways that complemented the player’s weapons of choice and rewarded players with survivability.
    For example - if your class had the option to recover temporary HP with stagger? You could then pick a weapon with high stagger and be rewarded for controlling enemies rather than killing them explicitly.
    Meanwhile - Toughness just devolves down to “don’t get hit ever because you WILL get worn down with far less chance for recovery”. It’s akin to playing 00’s shooters on “Legendary” difficulty where the best way through is to take things slower and wait for abilities to regen/shields to come back up/etc.
  • Ranged enemies in general (how they can stun you, etc.)

These hiccups and odd design choices end up feeling clunky, unresponsive, and above all else - frustrating. As it feels much more like you’re working against the controls, rather than them feeling like an “extension” of yourself.

Progression & Respecting Your Time :hourglass:

I’ll be frank. Coming from VT2, I feel like the game has made one step forward (abandoning the “all or nothing” nature of mission rewards), but so many steps back .

  • Weapons have more randomness to them than ever. And it’s explained in such a poor manner that it feels like nobody really analyzed it before shipping it out the door. I know it is being looked at, but that it even made it to public builds is baffling seeing as how two of the most popular mods for Vermintide 2 —over the past 4 years— were the Armory and Bestiary - mods that give you explicit numbers on game systems.

  • Progression is near-completely isolated between characters. Which makes the prospect of maintaining multiple classes extremely daunting (given that it will take about 30 hours or more just to hit max level, then untold amounts of time grinding for gear), and something only those who are prepared to devote MMO-levels of time towards the title feasible for.
    In VT2, even if you primarily played one character. You could still progress with others by opening the lootboxes on them. This let you switch frequently and keep things fresh.
    A similar thing could be achieved here by just making all currency universal.

  • Not only the shop, but the missions as well are time-gated.
    While some may have disliked the “lootbox” aspect to VT2’s progression. It still granted you more agency in how you progressed.
    Don’t get a weapon type you wanted from the lootbox? You can smelt the weapons down and craft it into a type you DO want. Then you can upgrade it!
    Want to grind a specific mission and unlock something? Just go do it! No need to wait for an arbitrary real world timer.
    This choice doesn’t exist in Darktide, and you are entirely beholden to the whims of the automated schedule.

It overall feels like the game is much more aggressively trying to demand your time. Which is fatiguing in the current gaming climate.

A Guess As To Intent :question:

Now this may come across as cynical, but it’s how I genuinely feel about the whole thing.

Firstly - on Combat:

I feel like the team’s ultimate goal is to really make it so that each class has a defined role on the field so that the team can (attempt to) operate as a multi-faceted machine with less overlap between players.

This becomes easier to sell to more casual, less experienced, or less “technical” players as it reduces the difficulty in becoming an “effective” player, and also gives them a more defined target to vent their frustrations towards when they lose.

  • “Get cornered by the horde? That damn Ogyrn isn’t doing his job as the horde clearer! That’s why we wiped, not because of my poor positioning!”
  • “These specials keep taking us out. What the hell is our Psyker/Veteran doing? I have two anti-horde weapons so it’s their job to kill them!”
  • “There’s no scoreboard! We lost the mission, but it totally wasn’t my fault and nobody can prove otherwise - not even me!”

This is opposed to how VT2’s meta eventually developed into a state where “everyone is responsible for a bit of everything” regardless of your class. If you shirked dealing with specific targets, whether intentionally or just as a consequence of your poor build, you and by extent the whole team suffer for it.
This meant that if you ran a specialist build, you needed to really know your stuff and how to play around your weaknesses on the off chance that your teammates weren’t able to cover for you.
But it also meant that if you -really- knew your stuff (I’m talking like solo Legend/Cata consistently), you could practically solo missions. Which I think is a reward in and of itself and not something to be discouraged.

There was less of a guiding hand into how you should approach character building and combat. And based on the combat team’s insistence on obscuring details as to not scare people away, this shift in design philosophy that consequentially takes player agency away definitely feels intentional. Much to my and others’ chargrin.

Secondly - on the game as a whole:

I think it is very clear that Vermintide is designed from the onset to be a “longer term” title. A live-service type game in the vein of successful games-as-a-service titles such as Warframe and Destiny 2. Whether or not this is due to influence from Fatshark’s parent company is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some nudging from the higher ups in this regard, as well as this being a response to the types of players who stuck around in VT2.

  • The always-online component prevents players from taking fixes for any issues they have with the game into their own hands.
  • The forced multiplayer hub allows players to show off their shiny cosmetics to others. Possibly encouraging further investment (be it time or money).
  • Weapons have even MORE randomness to them than before. Meaning that the people looking to optimize builds and get that “perfect” weapon will have to again, invest far more time (or emperor forbid - money)
  • Various systems are tied to real-world time. From the very weapons you can obtain in the shop, from the actual missions you can play. Encouraging FOMO and driving player engagement up once more. Is that thing you want not available? Then come back later today/tomorrow for a chance to get it!

It feels… manipulative and tiring, for lack of a better descriptor. In an environment where it feels like every game is aggressively competing for your time, it’s just one more thing on the pile. One more subscription to go alongside netflix. One more medical issue as you grow older (okay maybe not quite that severe, but you get the idea).

In fact, it’s almost a stark opposite to the approach they had with VT2.

Conclusion :checkered_flag:

While I’ve clocked 36 hours over the past week and might play some more this evening, as well as many hours more in the future - I find my interest steadily waning in a way that didn’t happen with Vermintide until I started approaching the three-digit hour mark. To the point where I’m telling perspective players/friends to “wait for patches to fix X”.
This is because at it’s core. Darktide is a fun game. There’s no question about it.
But there’s just so many misteps on top of that solid core that just… really dampens the experience.